Wrecked World War Two Aircraft Recovered from Lake Michigan

Images by U.S. Navy

(Images 1, 2, 3, 4 in public domain)

It isn’t unusual to find man-made debris littering lake beds, like rusting supermarket trolleys and even old cars.  But every now and then the murky deep turns up a truly awesome find, such as a Second World War fighter bomber.  Take this former U.S. Marine Corps Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless, for instance.

Image by U.S. Navy

This particular SBD-2 Dauntless (Build Number 2106) rolled off the assembly line in El Segundo, California, in December 1940 to take up active duty at Naval Air Station San Diego.  It served with various units during the War in the Pacific, used primarily against Japanese shipping in a bid to send the mighty fleet on a watery course for the ocean floor.

Image by U.S. Navy

The aircraft’s first major repair came after an unsuccessful raid against Japanese aircraft carriers in June 1942, west of Midway Atoll.  Enemy fire riddled the Dauntless with 219 bullet holes, and of 16 aircraft that took part in the raid, Dauntless 2106 was one of only eight to return.  The plane was returned to the United States and repaired, eventually assigned to the Carrier Qualification Training Unit at NAS Glenview, Illinois.  (Discover more about the now abandoned airfield on Midway Atoll here.)

Image by U.S. Navy

The last flight of Dauntless 2106 came one morning in June 1943, when a student pilot ditched it in Lake Michigan after straying from the correct landing approach to the training carrier, USS Sable.  Battered but not completely broken, the Dauntless rested on the floor of Lake Michigan for more than half a century before a team trawling the depths for the wreck finally raised it in 1994.  The risky business of training fledgling aviators to land on a floating, pitching, rolling deck means the lake bed is a veritable aircraft graveyard.

Image by U.S. Navy

The Dauntless was in remarkable condition when it was pulled from the lake, considering it was essentially crashed into the water.  Not only was the propellor still intact, it was still straight, begging the question of what other wooden wonders lie silent and undiscovered beneath the surface of the Great Lakes.  Thankfully, there’ll be no more crashing for this aircraft.  It was restored at the U.S. National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola, Florida, and displayed to the public in 2001. Its original paint scheme is still partially visible on its wings and tail.

Image by D Guisinger

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Here’s another watery wreck, this time at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona, awaiting restoration after decades at the bottom of a lake.  Once again, barring the obvious parts missing, the fuselage overall appears in good condition.  So while a waterlogged engine and hydraulic systems is never a good thing, the lake has kept the scrapman at bay and, as the Dauntless above proves, a cosmetic clean-up is not beyond the bounds of economic possibility.  (Click here to see more watery aircraft graves.)

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About the author: Tom


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